Repatriation – The final journey home

In 2012, I had to make the most difficult phone call in my life. I had to inform our family friend G that her sister who lived like me in the UK had passed away.

Up to now, I remember it very clearly. Police called me on Friday evening confirming they found the sister dead in her kitchen. Our friend anticipated something was wrong since her sister didn’t answer the phone for days and was over 80 years old.

I could not call G that night and waited till the morning. G was prepared for the news which I barely spoke out. I sobbed more than G and over the next few weeks, we worked together to bring her sister home.

It was then when I learnt first hand how bureaucratic the repatriation of a body is. If you’ve never done it before, it can make this difficult time even harder.

Get a death certificate

If your loved one passed away in a hospital, they’ll issue a notification of death. For any other places of death, the police will need to be contacted. They’ll investigate the cause and issue the death certificate in ca 3-7 days.

Register the death to start the formal proceedings

You’ll need to register your loved one’s passing with the police closest to their home.

Afterwards, you’ll need to also get the death certified by the Ministry of Health. The attestation will be carried out by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Naturalisation and Residency.

Another trip will need to be made to your embassy where you’ll notify them of your loved one’s passing. They will also register the death, provide an NOC and cancel the passport. They will not cancel the visa or execute any other steps of the repatriation.

If your loved one was the sponsor for your visa, you’ll need to apply for your own visa or leave the country within the grace period. If the latter applies, this can add substantial stress to you and your family.

You’ll need to go back to the police station where you had registered the death previously. The police will provide you 3 letters which are necessary to

  • release the body from the hospital
  • embalm the body
  • transport the body to the airport.

Decide their final resting place

Depending on your loved one’s wishes, they can find their final resting place in the UAE. As many of us weren’t born here, this is probably the least common option.

Instead, the body of your loved ones can be cremated or embalmed and repatriated. The body will be released from the mortuary and brought to the embalming centre. From there, they will transport the body to the airport and ultimately their home country.

Engage an undertaker

This part of their final journey may be the hardest and most stressful. An undertaker is experienced with the formalities and paperwork and can arrange for the final passage home.

Airline regulates how the body will be transported home. If you want to fly with your loved ones, you’ll need to book your own ticket. However, even if carrying an urn, you won’t be allowed to bring this to the passenger deck. For many, it’s hard to imagine their loved ones being in a different part of the plane.

When you arrive in your home country, the undertake will have for a local undertaker to welcome to your loved one.

Check the paperwork

Paperwork is exhausting, especially if you don’t have the right documents with you. Processes can also change and you may need to follow a different or additional step.

We’ve collected a few links for you outlining the process in more detail:

The cost of repatriation

Repatriation isn’t cheap. Various insurer (e.g. health insurance, life insurance) include the repatriation of a body in their package. Check your policy. If you can find it, you’re your insurer or even your HR team (for insurances taking out by your company).

Most of us don’t like to think of death or the dreadful last journey. Living abroad can increase the feeling of being lost or alone. Support from friends and family can ease the pain to a degree. While today’s post and the one from last Monday are of a more serious tone, being aware can help you prepare for such difficult times.

Until next time,


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